Analysing N'Golo Kanté's tireless performance for Chelsea at Crystal Palace
This will always be remembered as a club-record equalling performance, but it took grit and determination as Chelsea ground out a hard-fought 1-0 win at Crystal Palace, which secured the record-equalling 11th successive victory, and momentarily moved the Blues nine points clear at the top.
Diego Costa’s headed goal from a Cesar Azpilicueta cross was enough to take the points, but a vital element of this win in Saturday’s early kick-off was to shut down Palace’s midfield and to alleviate the threat of the attacking trio of Jason Puncheon, Andros Townsend, and Wilfried Zaha, operating behind Christian Benteke,as well as free-scoring midfielder James McArthur.
Chelsea executed that need successfully, and a key part of that was the brilliance and work-rate of N’Golo Kanté in midfield.
Azpilicueta may have taken the man of the match plaudits, but much was owed to a solid team performance defensively, and Kanté was vital in providing defensive cover for the back-three, alongside his midfield partner Nemanja Matic.
Despite failing to win any of his three attempted tackles and losing two aerial battles to James McArthur, Kanté chipped in at vital times, winning a header against Joe Ledley on the edge of his box in the second-half as Palace looked to threaten. He intercepted three times, two of which were inside his own half, which helped break up play, and he contributed a clearance from the edge of his own box on the half hour mark when Palace attempted to apply pressure.
Interestingly, Kanté helped add some forward thrust to the Chelsea attack, despite his more defensively orientated role, and obviously enjoyed his licence to drive as a midfield engine, getting beyond both Yohan Cabaye and James McArthur when he attempted to take-on the Palace midfield, whilst having three efforts on goal. His first effort before the break was blocked away, before he drew two saves from Wayne Hennessey in the second-half. He was clever when he needed to be also, drawing a foul on the edge of the centre-circle inside the Palace half to prevent them from picking his pocket and breaking forward, whilst only giving away one foul of his own. Only he did over-commit in the challenge on Jason Puncheon down the Palace left, and was reasonably shown a yellow card.
As well as his defensive solidity and his willingness to get forward, Kanté also added a potent link-up presence in midfield, helping Chelsea play out from the back and play forward with incisive passing, and he provided a cool head in this role, completing 85% of his passes. When he or his teammates did give the ball away, he tirelessly worked to win the ball back, managing to block three attempted Palace passes throughout the game in the process.
It’s not been a bad first 18 months in the Premier League for the Frenchman overall, winning a title with Leicester City in his first season in England, which paved the way for his inclusion in the France squad at Euro 2016 and his subsequent big-money £30m move to Chelsea, with whom just as he was with the Foxes one year ago, he is now top of the table at Christmas.
The grafting Frenchman, who arrived in English football from Ligue 1 outfit SM Caen, now has the best winning ratio of any current Premier League player with more than 50 appearances to his name, having been on the winning side of 37 of the 54 Premier League games he has featured in: a 68.5% win percentage.
Kanté’s work rate and reliable covering presence for Antonio Conte’s new three-man defence has been vital in ensuring the Italian’s 3-4-3 system has been met with much success at Chelsea, and it is the ability to defend well which is proving the key after Chelsea’s free-scoring form has somewhat diminished in recent weeks.
After starring in Leicester’s shock title success last season, N’Golo Kanté is now in a good position within an already potentially record-breaking Chelsea side, to become one of the few to earn consecutive Premier League title victories. If he managed it, he would join a less occupied yet arguably more coveted club of managing to achieve the feat with two different teams. With performances like this, he is on track to do so, and Conte and Chelsea will need this standard of performance from the France international to continue if they are to be celebrating come May like they will be this Christmas. The statistics all point to Kanté being one of the Premier League’s most important players, if not the most important; the best the league has to offer at present according to former Chelsea goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer. That is still up for debate, but more silverware this time around may prove that beyond reasonable doubt.
Featured Image: All Rights Reserved by Alex Hannam.